Longer Hours Mean Higher Chat Conversions at Orvis

Expanding live chat by three hours has produced a lift of five whole percentage points in sales conversions for the Orvis Company. After offering chat from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST during most of 2008, the outdoors gear marketer began testing the hours of 6 a.m. to midnight in October.

Orvis, Sunderland, Vt., implemented strategy permanently after the holidays, and subsequently pushed the CRM medium’s conversion rate up from 14 percent to 19 percent. Brad Wolansky, vp of global e-commerce, Orvis, said those numbers reflect both its domestic and U.K. retail Web sites. 

“The window of availability enables us to cover a good portion of the day in the U.K.,” he said. “We are going to test expanding the hours again, a couple of hours at a time. From an e-commerce perspective, if it is a good thing, why not have it available a little longer?”

Wolansky added that his brand’s ongoing commitment to making chat and e-mail inquiries into active sales generators deserves some credit for the program’s recent performance increases.  

Here’s how Orvis.com’s chat/e-mail inquiry program works: It employs a ‘smart button’ by InstantService, Seattle. The box-shaped button intersperses between offering live chat and a quick e-mail response, depending on whether there’s a rep available. If a rep is not available during the hours of online operation, the button shows customers a two-hour e-mail-reply guarantee.

Wolansky said that his strategy, however, is to undersell and over-perform. He said the he instructs staffers to reply within an hour for every e-mail inquiry—not the two-hour guarantee.

“I have always viewed chat as a sales generation tool and not as a customer service tool,” he said. “Yeah, we do plenty of customer service and it’s a terrific way of solving customer service issues. But from a business model standpoint, it’s a sales conversion tool. When properly managed—and I underline ‘properly managed—a chat program is a money-making effort that should not be viewed as a customer service cost.”

In addition, the back-end system provides a dashboard where chatters can quickly find product page links. Most chats are initiated by the consumer to talk about products, he said, so opportunities to present links happen in the natural flow of conversation. The dashboard also lets reps use a library of scripted responses that they can cut and paste from to save time.

“Generally, they will cut, paste and alter the scripts,” Wolansky said. “You want [reps] to customize the phrase. You don’t want to just cut and paste the response boilerplate. When you do that, it actually prolongs the length of the chat session because then the customer has to ask additional questions to get specific information about the pants or whatever they are interested in buying. You are better off taking 10 seconds more to customize the library response to get it right the first time and better fit the customer’s needs.”

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